Following weeks of public speculation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday night, confirming previous reports that the California Democrat would be traveling to the East Asian nation with several members of Congress.
Upon arriving in the capital city of Taipei, Pelosi’s office released a statement on the trip, with the House Speaker saying that it “honors America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s vibrant Democracy.”
“Our discussions with Taiwan leadership will focus on reaffirming our support for our partner and on promoting our shared interests, including advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” Pelosi said in the press release. “America’s solidarity with the 23 million people of Taiwan is more important today than ever, as the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy.”
The trip by Pelosi marks the first time a U.S. House Speaker has visited the island in 25 years, with Republican Newt Gingrich having been the last to travel to Taiwan in 1997.
The Chinese government, which claims Taiwan as Chinese territory, expressed outrage at Pelosi’s visit and has since proclaimed a series of actions the country plans to take in response. In addition to deploying more than 20 military aircraft into Taiwan’s airspace on Wednesday, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials announced via state-run media that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) plans to conduct live-fire military drills in the waters surrounding Taiwan in the coming days, with details of “additional important drills” to be released in the near future.
“[People’s Republic of China] announcing air-naval live-fire drills around Taiwan is self-evidently apparent that they seek a cross-strait resolution by force instead of peaceful means,” Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said in a statement. “Activities around our territory are closely monitored by #ROCMND and, will meet our appropriate responses when needed.”
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen also issued remarks on the matter during a Wednesday event with Pelosi, saying Taiwan “will not back down” and will “continue to hold the line of defence for democracy” in the face of “heightened military threats” from China.
In addition to military activity, China has also begun ratcheting up its economic pressure on Taiwan, with the communist country’s General Administration of Customs expanding “its trade blacklist to another 2,066 food products and over 100 food manufacturers” and the Ministry of Commerce suspending natural sand exports to the island.
U.S. Policy Toward Taiwan
While U.S. President Joe Biden, who previously insinuated that Pelosi should avoid visiting Taiwan, has largely stayed mum on the subject, his administration has been at the forefront of reaffirming U.S. commitment to the status quo of relations between the two countries. During a press briefing with reporters on Monday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby expressed such sentiments and asserted that the U.S. government does not “support Taiwan independence.”
“Nothing has changed about our ‘One China Policy,’” Kirby said. “We have repeatedly said that we oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side. We have said that we do not support Taiwan independence, and we have said that we expect cross-str[ait] differences to be resolved by peaceful means.”
Following moves by President Jimmy Carter’s administration to switch diplomatic recognition from the Republic of China (ROC) government in Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) government in Beijing in 1979, the United States has maintained a “One China Policy,” which acknowledges that the PRC is the sole government of China, as well as Beijing’s position that Taiwan belongs to China. The United States does not, however, recognize the PRC’s claims to territorial sovereignty over Taiwan.
While formal diplomatic ties between America and Taiwan were officially terminated in 1979, the U.S. Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act that same year, which established informal relations between the two nations as a means “to help maintain peace, security, and stability in the Western Pacific” and “promote the foreign policy of the United States by authorizing the continuation of commercial, cultural, and other relations between the people of the United States and the people on Taiwan.” The legislation has since guided U.S. policy toward Taiwan, including America’s commitment to selling the island military equipment to help defend itself.
What’s the Endgame?
In light of Pelosi’s visit, China’s increasingly aggressive behavior toward Taiwan has reignited discussions among American foreign policy analysts and political figures about the United States’ long-term policy toward Taiwan and whether the U.S. should militarily intervene whenever China decides to invade the island.
Proponents of American intervention in the Taiwan Strait will often cite a variety of economic and security issues to justify their position, ranging from Taiwan’s position as a major producer of microchips, to the island’s critical location in the first island chain and proximity to U.S. allies such as South Korea and Japan. Opponents will alternatively rationalize that a long, drawn-out conflict favors Beijing given the geographical advantage China has to Taiwan and that such a clash between two nuclear powers would be a waste of American lives and resources.
Thus the United States’ long-term policy toward Taiwan remains in limbo. While America’s policy of strategic ambiguity has allowed U.S. political leadership to expand unofficial relations with Taiwan, it has simultaneously kept the American public in the dark about whether they should be preparing to send their sons and daughters off to war. Moreover, such equivocation has also proven detrimental for the Taiwanese people, who are left wondering if America will come to their rescue once China launches a siege upon their homeland.
One way or another, the United States is going to have to make a call on defending Taiwan. Regardless of what that decision might be, the current policy of sending American representatives to Taiwan with no clear, long-term strategy on how to approach Sino-Taiwanese relations is nothing more than political theater — and unjust to both American and Taiwanese people.